By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ | Associated Press Writer
An imprisoned writer whose published diary entries offered a glimpse of life behind bars in Cuba has been released, becoming the sixth of the 75 dissidents jailed last year in a major crackdown to be freed.
Manuel Vazquez Portal, 52, was released late Wednesday from Boniato Prison in the eastern city of Santiago. He then traveled to Havana, where he spoke with reporters on Thursday.
‘‘I’m stunned,’’ said Vazquez Portal, adding that he was surprised some of the prisoners with more serious health problems weren’t released before him.
Vazquez Portal said he didn’t know why he was let free, but his wife, Yolanda Huerga, said her husband evidently was released early because of his high blood pressure.
The other five dissidents freed earlier were let go for medical reasons.
Vazquez Portal said authorities recommended he leave Cuba following his release, making clear they would not stop him if he wanted to go.
‘‘Before being freed, I did want to leave,’’ Vazquez Portal said. “But now I don’t know. It’s a long-awaited moment, like the last act in an opera.’‘
He was among 75 activists arrested in March 2003 during a crackdown on dissidents that drew widespread international criticism.
The 75, including independent journalists, operators of non-state libraries, opposition party leaders and others, were tried the following month on charges of working with U.S. officials to undermine Fidel Castro’s socialist government—charges they denied. They received sentences ranging from six to 28 years.
In his diary entries, some of which were published by The Associated Press last year, Vazquez Portal recounted conditions such as bad food, rats and humidity behind prison walls.
The diary, smuggled out by his wife during a regular visit, contained no reports of physical abuse.
Roberto de Miranda, from the same group of 75, was freed for medical reasons earlier Wednesday. The 62-year-old said he suffers from severe heart and blood pressure problems.
Another four members of that group were allowed to walk free in recent weeks because of serious health problems.
Another four dissidents who were jailed in an unrelated operation nearly a year before the crackdown also were freed earlier this month.